Books and the stories they tell can be very powerful.
In 1986 a single copy of a book in an English school library was a catalyst for the introduction two years later of the infamous ‘Section 28’.
The book was called ‘Jenny Lives with Eric and Martin’ by Susanne Bösche, and it followed the story of five year old Jenny, her dad Martin, and his partner Eric. Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 made it illegal for teachers in government run education facilities (schools, colleges and universities) to do anything that could be considered as "promoting the teaching of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship."
The Act had a devastating and long-lasting impact on many children.
Section 28 remained enforceable until 2003, and Prime Minister David Cameron publicly apologised for the legislation in 2009.
Today we live in a much more tolerant society, and although there is still a long way to go, there are many brilliant books for children which are inclusive and celebrate diversity in all its forms. This is helping to reflect the realities of our communities and enabling all children to see themselves reflected in stories. For a child reading a book, it can be as simple as seeing a character with the same colour skin as you, or one that shares the same hobby.
In the 1970s a series of books following the everyday experiences of a Black British boy called Sean were published, beginning with 'My Brother Sean'. Written by Surinamese-born, Guyanese and British author Petronella Breinburg, and illustrated by Errol Lloyd, the series is widely regarded for being among the first books written by a Black British author to star Black children as the central protagonists. Errol, who was born in Jamaica and came to Britain in the 1960s, was the first Black illustrator to be nominated for a Kate Greenaway medal in 1973, for his wonderful pictures in 'My Brother Sean'.
Many contemporary children’s books include stories featuring a wide variety of family structures, characters dressing in clothes culturally associated with those of another gender, non-binary characters, and stories featuring characters from diverse ethnic backgrounds.